The days to come "will not be a bed of roses," says Roy (right, at home in Las Vegas with Siegfried and leopard cubs Neruda, Ibasa and Asabi). "I have no illusion about that. But I can handle it."
09/16/2004 AT 06:00 AM EDT
Here's the main thing: Even though a 600-lb. white tiger tore into his neck, punctured arteries and dragged him half-conscious across a stage in front of a live audience, legendary Las Vegas performer Roy Horn is adamant that the animal, named Montecore, never meant to hurt him. All those stories, all those headlines, he says, got it wrong. "Montecore," he insists, "saved my life."
Almost a year after the near-fatal incident that triggered a massive stroke, the trauma to his brain has cost the 59-year-old Roy the use of his left arm and hand and much of the use of his left leg as well. Witnesses claim the tiger appeared to lunge after Roy gave him an attention-focusing microphone bop on the nose during the animals-and-illusions spectacular with partner Siegfried Fischbacher, 65. But Roy maintains that Montecore was really trying to drag him to safety after seeing him felled by what he thinks may have been a stroke. "He instinctively saw that I needed help, and he helped me."
Roy, who has taken medication for high blood pressure for years, says he had recently begun to suffer dizzy spells – and this one spell, unfortunately, occurred in the presence of a very large tiger. "I started feeling kind of weak," says Roy, who still speaks slowly but has recovered most of his German-accented speech. "I fell over. Montecore saw that I was falling down. So he actually took me and brought me to the other exit where everybody could get me and help me. He knew better than I did where to go." Ron Tilson, director of conservation at the Minnesota Zoo, says the tiger's actions could also be interpreted as predatory: "When tigers kill prey and they want to move it out from the open into a more safe and secure place, they'll usually grab it by the neck. A tiger is a wild animal. No one can predict when its so-called hard-wired neural pathway is going to be triggered." But Siegfried, the magician mastermind who performed with Roy for 13 years straight at Vegas's Mirage Hotel, says Montecore had displayed this heroic streak before. He recalls a time the tiger hauled his littermate sister out of a pool as she struggled to keep her head above water. "We joked about it always," says Siegfried. "Montecore the lifeguard."